Celebrating Pittsburgh's Latina Changemakers

24th Sep 2019

September 15 began Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually from September 15 through October 15 to acknowledge the history, culture, and contributions of Americans whose ancestry can be traced to Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Spain. In the United States, there are approximately 58.5 million people who have ancestries connected to these countries. While many labels are used for these groups, the most common umbrella terms are ‘Hispanic” and ‘Latina/o/x.’

Incidentally, the term ‘Hispanic’ came from the US and traditionally refers to Spanish speaking people, which not all Latinx people are. Here is a great article that discusses the history of the term, and why there are efforts to phase it out in favor of the more inclusive ‘Latinx’. Despite the original intentions of Hispanic Heritage Month, to many in the Latinx community, the celebration is largely seen as a marketing opportunity. This article surveyed journalists, artists, activists, and more in the Latinx community about whether Hispanic Heritage Month should be renamed.

Compared to other cities our size, Pittsburgh isn’t the most diverse of cities, with many neighborhoods still showing more segregation than integration. In spite of that, we do have a small- but vibrant and growing- Latinx community. This month here at Levana Bratique, we wanted to highlight several Latina women in the Pittsburgh area that are doing some amazing things.

Gisele Fetterman, second lady of Pennsylvania, is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Gisele came to New York City as an undocumented immigrant at age 7, becoming a citizen in her 20s. She moved to Braddock, Pennsylvania over 10 years ago after she met her husband, John Fetterman (who is now Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor, but was mayor of Braddock at the time).

Among Gisele’s ventures:
Founder, The Free Store in Braddock- a donation driven shop that provides free clothing, food, and furniture to those in need.
Co-founder, 412 Food Rescue- a smart-phone app that deploys an army of part-time volunteers to pick up and deliver food on short notice from organizations with extra to food banks and pantries around the region.
Co-founder, For Good Pittsburgh- develops and implements initiatives that promote diversity and inclusivity, and creates positive experiences for underserved populations in the greater Pittsburgh region and beyond.
Co-founder, The Hollander Project - a co-working space and business incubator for minority, female entrepreneurs from Braddock and surrounding Mon Valley communities.

We asked Gisele:

Who has your support network been, and how have they encouraged you?
My husband has always been an incredible support system. My many best friends as well - I can go to them any day or night for advice, encouragement or just an open ear.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get where you are?
Living as an undocumented family and in limbo for almost 15 years was terrifying, for a very long time.

What drives you or keeps you going?
Gratitude. Gratitude that I get to live in this country and that I feel safe. I’m inspired by the incredible families I have the honor of serving each day.

What is on the horizon for you?
Our women’s incubator space in Braddock, The Hollander, just turned one and now we are expanding into another space to be able to serve more women. ( www.forgoodpgh.org )
A few criminal justice initiatives and opioid work. Currently on a state correctional facility tour, serving as Warden for a Day at each site. Always working on equity and advocacy for the most vulnerable.

Victoria Snyder is second-generation Mexican American on her father’s side and Irish/German on her mother’s side. Born in Long Beach, California, she moved back to her mothers hometown of Monaca, Pennsylvania when she was 4 years old. 

Among Victoria's accomplishments:

Executive Vice President of Ya Momz House, Inc.- an international Emmy-Award winning digital media company. Director of Programming for Hip-Hop on L.O.C.K.- an arts education and mentoring program that employs hip-hop as a tool to educate and empower youth K-12 through Leadership Development, Organizational Skills, Cooperative Economics and Knowledge of the Music Business.

Producer for OpticVoices - an engaging and interactive photography exhibit that aims to provide the public with a more authentic and true narrative of all people through the lens of captivating and thought-provoking imagery.

Founder of Self-Care Señorita - a blog, social media initiative that prompts and propels the concept of self-care to others

She is also one of Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2019 40 under 40 Honorees.

We asked Victoria:

Who has your support network been, and how have they encouraged you?

My mother has always been my support system, but steadfast. There were no Latinos in our community and she tried so hard to be able to still present me with both sides of my culture. She has encouraged me to explore my heritage, to live what it means to me to be authentic, and to always be curious about pushing my self to the next level.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get where you are?

I’ve never had a Latina/o mentor. In college, as a first-generation student I felt so lost -- I was a Latina, first-generation student from a single-parent household. There wasn't anyone like me who worked at the college --- that is what propelled me to work in higher education for 9 years and to do it specifically in diversity and equity affairs.

What drives you or keeps you going?
My son is my driving factor. He is my sun, moon, and stars. As a single mom I am his sole provider --- so everything I do, I do for him so he can see what it means to be strong, brave, smart and hard-working.

What is on the horizon for you?
I've just launched a new concept called Self-Care Señorita-- the concept is a blog, social media initiative that prompts and propels the concept of self-care to others. After going full force in my personal and professional life, I was burnt out, I was not taking care of myself -- and in doing so, I hurt what was most essential to my family- me! Learning that self-care isn't selfish and helping others has been a changing force in my life.

Melanie Marie Boyer is a Colombian and United States Citizen. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, she says she has always had Colombia in her heart. Melanie strives every day to be the catalyst of forward movement and positive growth for not only in her career, but in all aspects of her life. Passionate about helping businesses to reach their full potential, she places value in work/life balance and, more than anything, enjoys spending time with her husband (Illustrator Joel C. Boyer) and sons Dawson Christopher and Broderick Paul Boyer.

Among Melanie's accomplishments:

Director of Development at Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce where she seeks to uphold PMAHCC's mission to develop, promote and advocate on behalf of Hispanic businesses and professionals in the Pittsburgh region, while encouraging the advancement and economic growth of Pittsburgh’s Hispanic community. Melanie is also responsible for the chamber’s Latino Leaders Gathering initiative to create lasting bonds between the Latino nonprofits and their leadership so that the organizations may work together to better serve the community.

Host and co-producer of Pittsburgh: Our City to be released in the Fall of 2019. The show reveals Pittsburgh through the eyes and stories of the people who live in and have experienced Pittsburgh and all that the city has to offer.

Melanie also offers freelance marketing services including social media planning, management and instruction, as well as animated and white board videos.

We asked Melanie:

Who has your support network been, and how have they encouraged you?
My family, friends and other Latino Leaders within the community have supported my tremendously. I have an amazing network of strong individuals who stand by my side and not only help me through the hard times, but help me go even further and reach the next level when things are going well!

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get where you are?
The biggest obstacle I have overcome is balance. Being in the nonprofit realm, with a small business, as a Mom and as a woman, I find that the constant stress and pressure from society, my own expectations and the sheer amount of work that needs done and lack of time that I feel that I need to do things at home and with my children as well.

What drives you or keeps you going?
What drives me? I have an overwhelming drive towards success. Everything that I am a part of, I want to do my best, learn and always keep moving forward. I really just do not see stopping as an option. I set my goals high and then my real goal is to move beyond that and just keep going!

What is on the horizon for you?

All of my projects are getting off of the ground right now. For me, using the tools and resources I have to elevate the Latino community and those around me are what I think of, when I imagine my professional future. It is my strong hope that through my work with the Latino Leaders Gathering, that we will have a more united community of Latino Leaders that will work together to improve the community and increase economic prosperity for all. It is my hope that my work in marketing elevates small businesses to allow them to thrive and better provide for their families and their futures. For the show and podcast, I hope that we can use inspiring stories of the ups and downs that lead to success to inspire those who are currently struggling and give them hope that they, too, will thrive in every way.

Rosamaria Cristello is originally from Guatemala, and grew up in Arlington, Virgina. Rosamaria moved to Pennsylvania to study at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she received her bachelor’s degrees in Environmental Regional Planning and Geographic Information Systems. She later moved to Pittsburgh to pursue her master’s degree in Public Administration through the Graduate School of Public & Internationals Affairs from the
University of Pittsburgh. While in Pittsburgh, Rosamaria met her now husband, David Cristello, and now they have their first son named James.

Rosamaria is the Executive Director and Founder of the Latino Community Center in Pittsburgh, PA  whose goal is to empower, advocate with, and celebrate Latinos in Allegheny County. Before launching the community center, she directed the Latino Family Center under the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which focuses on early childhood development.

Rosamaria serves on several Boards and Advisory Boards, among them the Women and Girls Foundation and the Office of Child Development under the University of Pittsburgh. She is also member of the Immigrants and Internationals Advisory Council for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, the Mayor’s Welcoming Pittsburgh Steering Committee and the Allegheny County and City of Pittsburgh Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census.

Among her recognitions, Rosamaria was named one of Pittsburgh’s 40 Under 40 in 2016, and she was the first recipient of the Barbara McNeese Spirit of Athena Award which provides free tuition to the CMU Women’s Leadership and Negotiation Academy. Most recently, Rosamaria was honored by the Pittsburgh Steelers for her work with the Latino community.

We asked Rosamaria:

Who has your support network been, and how have they encouraged you?
In addition to my husband, I have been very blessed with having a strong support network in Pittsburgh. In many ways, it has been due to allies who have given me leadership opportunities to meet other men and women who have become instrumental in my life. For example, in 2014 the Heinz Endowments invested in around 24 women in the region who were believed to be true servant leaders. In this cohort, which is named “Sync Up,” I met some of my closest friends. These are women who have seen me at my worst, and who have celebrated with me during the best of times. I would not be here today if it were not for each one of them. In addition to this group, Leadership Pittsburgh invested in approximately the same number of individuals, this time individuals who the region saw as Nonprofit leaders who embodied the potential to make an even greater impact. Similar to Sync Up, the men and women I met through my cohort have become irreplaceable in my life. Both of these groups encourage me every day. Watching one of my peers get to speak at the United Nations (Leah Lizarondo), or move away and quickly start making an impact in her new hometown (Julie Pezzino, who now runs the Children’s Museum in Portland Maine), these and many more inspire and encourage me every day.

What has been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get where you are?
Being a minority in this city has not been easy, especially when I see the potential in empowering our Latino community and still having to navigate systems that are blinded by the fact that we are here, and that we are just as capable as anyone else.

What drives you or keeps you going?
I believe the future is bright for Pittsburgh. I come from a place like Arlington, VA who embraces diversity and I see that for Pittsburgh. I believe that by working to strengthen our Latino community, we are strengthening our region for everyone, and I am so excited by this.

What is on the horizon for you?
Continuing to build a solid organization that will continue to meet the growing needs of our Latino community. That is my focus at the moment, and for the foreseeable future.

Susan Baida, Engagement and Inclusion Director at UPMC, transplanted to Pittsburgh about 7 years ago from New York City. She is a former marketing executive with Starwood Hotels, Estée Lauder Companies, Avon and Del Laboratories, and is co-founder of eCareDiary.com, an online community formed in late 2008 for family caregivers to coordinate care. Susan is on the board of Casa San José a nonprofit organization serving the needs of Latino immigrants and youth in the Pittsburgh region, the Allegheny County Executive 2020 Census Commission, and the 2019 Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival Advisory Council. Susan was recently profiled in Hispanic Executive Magazine.

If you are in the Pittsburgh area, check out the Hispanic Heritage Gala on September 28 at Westin Convention Center Hotel in Pittsburgh, PA. Melanie Boyer is the organizer, and Gisele Fetterman is hosting!

Ladies, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, and for everything that you are doing in our region!